Two of my favorites: the Carrie Furnace & Southside railroad tunnel
Ah, an auspicious beginning to 2009: more brutal crackdowns on graffiti in Pittsburgh. Two young men, both students at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, were arrested this weekend, and face felony charges. You can read more here . The biggest graffiti local news story of 2008 was the arrest and sentencing of Danny Montano, who tags MFONE. This was his third arrest, and many wanted to make an example of him. Interestingly enough, the 22 year-old art student was arrested at the Mattress Factory, a world-renowned contemporary art museum in Pittsburgh, as he was installing his piece for an exhibition. Montano faced a maximum possible sentence of $300,000 in fines and 130 years in prison. In the end, the judge sentenced him to 2.5 – 5 years in prison and over 200,000 in restitution, in what may be one of the harshest sentences for graffiti in the United States.
This is interesting to me, because as a city with an ever-declining population and tax base, Pittsburgh Police’s graffiti task force has not been able to keep up with graffiti and street art. That and the plethora of empty buildings, closed down mills and factories, and wonderful nooks and crannies like railroad bridges, stairways, alleys, train tunnels, and hollows, have allowed for street art to flourish here.
The Street Changes Forever Everywhere, Summer 2004
While the Pittsburgh graffiti task force has pushed for ever harsher penalties for “illegal” graffiti, There have been several graffiti/street art gallery and public art shows over the past few years, including The Street Changes Forever Everywhere (above) and Static Free.
I have organized and taught many high school workshops about street art; many of the students I have worked with are already cutting stencils, silkscreening stickers, and wheatpasting on their own time. This draconian punishment is troubling to me in my own practice of empowering young people, and of course like a mama bird I worry about them. I also wonder about the future possibility to teach and discuss these forms, even through the relatively uncensored lens of an art museum’s education department. How will the tension between ‘legit’ street art in museums and galleries, use of public and private space, and property damage play out in Pittsburgh?
I’ll leave you with this quote from a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article. Setting a tone of fear for putting things up on the street, or even being out at night:
Detective Rende said task force members had hoped the Montano case would scare off future graffiti squads. Yesterday he pleaded for the public to keep an eye out for graffiti vandals and to notify police.
“If you see a kid out there with a backpack at 11 o’clock at night and a tossel cap and a hooded sweatshirt, he’s not going to study with his friends,” he said. “There’s a good chance he has paint cans in that bag.”
Lot behind Pittsburgh Filmmakers, Gold Way. A favorite special spot. Art by former student